What if a duck chairs the Public Accounts Committee?

Tuesday August 14 2018

Nicholas Sengoba

Nicholas Sengoba  

By Nicholas Sengoba

When opposition party FDC made changes in its leadership and representation in Parliament, the raging comments made it appear like many were in danger of extinction. Interestingly, many of those commenting have on various occasions dismissed Parliament as a useless rubber stamping body full of hapless self-seekers.
Worse still, a good number have confessed before to be ‘apolitical;’ the type that claim they hate politics and won’t register or vote in an election because all politicians are the same. As such, they are apparently not concerned by about who goes to Parliament.

Ironically, they are now having sleepless nights over what happens there, especially who leads the Opposition or heads an oversight committee! All these happenings particularly the renewed interest in parliamentary activities takes one back many years ago. Once upon a time, the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament (PAC) was all the rage.
It made a lot of news grilling and exposing misuse of public funds like had not happened before. It was a ‘dreaded’ committee by those who were charged with handling public funds. Stories from PAC dominated the headlines almost on a daily basis.

But as time went by, the stories of PAC humbling ‘big people’ lost their appeal. The biggest reason was that it was all talk and no action. They had a terrible habit of making reports much later after the money had disappeared and people had moved on.
Talk then started doing the rounds that some members of PAC had developed a bad habit of talking ‘nicely’ in private to some of those who they grilled in public, for the cameras.

Those who said these things claimed that when PAC harangued one and then gave them time to go and bring other ‘supporting documents,’ at that point members were creating a window for money to change hands and let matters be.
In fact, it was further said that one of the reasons why PAC would be very aggressive in front of the cameras, was actually playing to the gallery. PAC would take shelter under parliamentary privilege to call people epithets and threaten them with jail or interdiction, as a way to intimidate them into submission for private talks.
An MP who became a member of PAC when he first joined Parliament once told me about the baptism he received on his first day. As other PAC members blasted an accounting officer and his team, he remained silent. At the end of the session, his colleagues criticised him for not being as hard as they were and accused him of having a relationship with the accounting officer and his team.

They warned him that the hidden agenda would one day be exposed and it would land him in trouble. This shocked him for he thought that they as the Opposition only had one agenda, which was to fight misuse of public funds and check the excesses of government. Gradually, it dawned on him that the private ‘talking’ unsettled many PAC members and rendered it impossible for their minds to be purposeful. I recall that when the cycle of PAC grilling members loudly for the headlines and then matters dying out slowly, became the norm, one of the daily newspapers had an interesting editorial in which they said PAC as we know it, has descended into the ‘Public Amusement Committee.’
They just excited the public with endless drama that resulted into nothing but animated news reports and headlines. They called for action which did not come and may not come in the near future. The challenge being that many people who handle public funds find themselves in these offices courtesy of who they know, which region they come from or which powerful big brother they know upstairs.

These will shield them at most times giving them a misguided sense of entitlement and granting them impunity to do as they wish with whatever monies they lay their hands on. As it dawned on members of PAC that many are untouchable, the habit of also taking some to avoid too much exposure became rampant. So instead of shaming someone, they talked to him and things ended there.
So even if PAC or the now more popular Cosase is chaired by a great mind or a duck, the most important thing is the delivery on their mandate. If all they do is make headlines and not protect what belongs to the public, then the ducks have an equal right as the brilliant minds to sit on, and head these sacred committees of Parliament.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues.

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